Looking for a crowd-pleaser tahchin (Persian savoury rice cake) recipe that vegetarians can also enjoy? Go no further. Here is what you’ve been looking for all the time! Seriously, my vegetarian tahchin is so comforting and pretty and so delicious even non-vegetarians won’t notice the absence of meat or chicken.
This gorgeous rice cake is my interpretation of the classic Persian tahchin which means “layered in the bottom”. There are many variations to the classic tahchin. The golden saffron infused rice and yoghurt cake may be layered with succulent lamb, chicken or even fish. Mine is layered with delicious and subtly spiced sautéed aubergines and mushrooms.
Sometimes only half of the rice is coloured with saffron. This golden layer goes into the bottom of the pan, is covered with a layer of cooked meat or chicken and then topped with plain rice. I like to mix all of my rice with yoghurt and saffron. Pure indulgence!
Saffron is the most expensive of all spices, right? But given that a little saffron goes a long way, it is not really as expensive to use as one might think. Some shop-bought spice mixes and marinades are definitely much more expensive than Persian saffron. Nowadays it is very easy to buy quality Persian saffron online. And saffron is the only expensive ingredient in this dish so overall this won’t be an expensive dish to make at all.
To get the best colour and aroma from saffron you need to grind the threads with a mortar and pestle (add a pinch of coarse sugar if the threads are hard to grind) and to brew it with very hot water for a few minutes.
I often make this rice cake when I’m entertaining vegetarian friends but non-vegetarians say they don’t even notice the absence of meat or chicken. Compliments usually pour when the rice is brought to the table with a sprinkling of jewel-like barberries. The good thing is you can serve this tahchin as an accompaniment to any braised subtly flavoured chicken, duck or game if you must serve meat as well.
The most important thing when making tahchin is to use a non-stick baking dish but don’t worry if you don’t have one. I experimented with non-stick liner and the result was excellent. Non-stick liner is inexpensive, re-usable and can be cut to shape to fit any dish. It also helps you use less oil to keep the ingredients from sticking to the dish.
The quantities given in this recipe are for feeding six people as a main course but you can easily divide the amounts in half for a smaller cake. Leftovers are really delicious. Just heat in a microwave oven, covered, for a couple of minutes and enjoy!
To make enough to feed six people you will need:
For the vegetable layer
- 2 large aubergines, cubed
- 250g brown mushrooms, thickly sliced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 120ml boiling water
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin (or a little more, your call)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
For the rice layer:
- 450g white basmati rice
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground saffron
- 11/2 tbsp boiling water
- 2 eggs
- 250ml Greek or Greek-style yoghurt (yoghurt must be really thick)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 4-5 tbsp barberries, picked over, rinsed and dried on kitchen paper
- 20g butter
- Heat the olive oil (2 tbsp) in a frying pan over medium heat and add the cubed aubergines and sliced mushrooms. Pour 60ml of boiling water over the vegetables and cover with a lid. Cook until all the water is absorbed. Stir well and add 60ml more boiling water. cook again until all the water is absorbed. Uncover and add all the salt and spices. Cook for a few minutes, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables are lightly browned. Set aside.
- Put the ground saffron in a small jar or cup and prepare according to the instruction in How to Prepare Saffron, the King of Spices.
- Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl and mix with the remaining oil, lemon juice and yoghurt. Add the soaked saffron. Mix well. Set aside.
- Bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Put the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Stir gently but thoroughly and drain. Repeat several times until the water runs clear. Drain well. Add the salt and rice to the saucepan and stir gently. Bring back to the boil and cook for a few minutes until the rice is cooked but still has a firm bite in the centre. If the rice is too soft the cake will have a mushy texture. Drain in a colander.
- Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas mark 5.
- Fold the cooked rice into the yoghurt mixture gently with a large spoon.
- Line a rectangular cake tin or oven dish with non-stick liner. Spread half the rice mixture in the bottom, keeping it from the unlined sides of the dish with the help of a spatula. Cover with an even layer of the aubergine and mushroom mixture, then the rest of the rice. Level the top and sides. Loosely cover with foil and put in the centre of the preheated oven. Bake for one hour. Uncover and bake for about forty five minutes or until there is a golden, lightly browned crust on the sides and top. You can spray the top with some oil to help the top brown more nicely or brush with oil/melted butter. You need to keep an eye on it for the last half hour to make sure you don’t get a burnt crust. Cooking times greatly depend on the kind of oven you are using so it’s good to be safe.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the barberries. Cook over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes until the barberries are shiny and a little puffed up. They burn easily so be careful not to cook too long or on very high heat.
- Make sure the rice is not sticking to the sides of the dish. You can use a knife to loosen it from the sides. Place a large tray (or platter or chopping board) on top of the baking dish and holding tight with both hands turn to release the cake onto the tray. Peel off the liner. Garnish the cake with the barberries and serve with a chopped tomato, cucumber and onion salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Enjoy!